Domestic violence toll
• A person died from domestic violence every 21.5 days, on average, in Kansas during 2007.
• A total of 604 cases of domestic violence were reported to Lawrence police in 2008. Another 84 were reported elsewhere in Douglas County.
• Women’s Transitional Care Services offered aid to 1,274 domestic violence victims in Douglas County in the past year. Of those served, 874 were women, 23 were men and 377 were children.
• A total of 47 percent of Douglas County domestic violence victims were between the ages of 15 and 25.
• In 36 percent of domestic violence cases in Lawrence, the abuser was a boyfriend or girlfriend or a former boyfriend or girlfriend.
• In 97 percent of domestic violence cases in Lawrence, offenders were suspected of using either alcohol or drugs.
— Source: Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant Kansas Attorney General Nola Wright cited a call to police from concerned neighbors as a key component to the prosecution’s case against Matthew Jaeger.
“I think the thing that made the case go was the 911 call,” Wright said. “You had neighbors that were paying attention and that picked up the phone, but there were a lot of people in that apartment complex that didn’t.”
Jaeger was convicted on Thursday in Douglas County District Court of kidnapping and aggravated battery for brutally assaulting his former girlfriend.
His victim, Francie Biggs, is grateful for the neighbors’ intervention.
“They played a big part in telling what really happened. They saw it, and if it weren’t for them, I really don’t know what would have happened to me,” she said.
Often, neighbors are the first to alert law enforcement about domestic violence cases, said Sarah Terwelp, executive director of Women’s Transitional Care Services. The nonprofit organization offers a safe house, court advocacy and other resources to more than 1,000 domestic abuse survivors each year.
“Most of the folks that come to our shelter have not called the police at any point in their relationship. And if they have had police involvement, it is usually because of neighbors calling the police on their behavior,” Terwelp said.
Bystanders are often reluctant to get involved in domestic disputes, even if violence is occurring, said Charlene Muehlenhard, a Kansas University professor who teaches a class on women and violence.
Muehlenhard points to a 1976 study by two Penn State University professors who found that witnesses were more likely to intervene in a physical fight if they perceived the participants to be strangers rather than married.
“It’s the idea that what happens in a relationship is between two people, and you don’t want to get involved between them,” she said.
Terwelp acknowledges it can be difficult to decide whether a domestic dispute warrants intervention.
She suggests that if concern builds over time, a neighbor should approach the potential victim and ask whether she wants the police to be called. They could also pass along information about services that are available for abuse victims.
“It’s better to at least give them a heads-up,” Terwelp said. “But if you can’t and you feel like something is happening that is really, really harmful to that person, go ahead and call the police. You have to use your best judgment.”
If police find evidence that physical abuse has occurred, they are required to arrest the offender, even if the victim doesn’t want to press charges.
During the heat of an argument, bystanders should never intervene themselves, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said. While he doesn’t advocate calling every time someone overhears a couple arguing, he believes that, in many instances, bystanders can sense when a fight has turned violent.
“If at any time you feel like someone could possibly be in danger, someone could possibly be hurt, by all means call the authorities,” Branson said.